Berthold Bouman, F1 Correspondent
- Second Constructors’ title for Red Bull
- 20th career victory for Sebastian Vettel
- Excellent performance by Toro Rosso
Red Bull Racing took their second successive Constructors’ World Championship’s title during the Korean Grand Prix at the Yeongam circuit last weekend. Red Bull only needed two points to clinch the title after Sebastian Vettel already had taken the Drivers’ Championship one week earlier. Vettel added another victory scoring his tenth victory of the season, and his 20th Formula One career victory.
Although the Austrian team has now claimed both titles, their absolute qualifying hegemony was unexpectedly broken in Korea, as they for the first time this season failed to get one of their drivers on pole position. Vettel left the start grid from second position on Sunday, while his Australian team mate Mark Webber left the grid from fourth place.
However, both Vettel and Webber did what they had to do, the fresh 2011 champion added another victory to his already impressive C.V, while Webber crossed the finish line in third position and the 40 points they together scored was more than enough for yet another party in the Red Bull Energy Station, the impressive mobile nerve center the team brings to all Grands Prix.
An again ecstatic Vettel paid tribute to his team after he had finished the race, “I think it's good to see that the whole team keeps on pushing. And now to come here [first place], after a tough Friday and a tough Saturday morning to come back in qualifying, and then in the race the car was fantastic. It was so much fun to drive, the car was getting quicker and quicker.”
The only thing that had worried him during the race was the safety car intervention, “I didn't really need that to be honest, Lewis came closer again and I was struggling a little bit with the tyres but then the car seemed to stabilise and come back and I was able to open a gap just before we had the second pit stop. Then to the end it was just fantastic, I could just push when I had to and obviously I got a little bit of a gap because those guys were fighting.”
Team principal Christian Horner described the German’s race as ‘phenomenal’. “Sebastian did everything right - he had a good start, made a bold move up the inside into turn four and then controlled the race. It was a World Champion's drive,” a very pleased Horner smiled.
Webber who came in third after a fantastic drive and an inspiring battle with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, also reckoned it had been a phenomenal year, “For the team to get the Constructors' is an incredible effort - when you have two back-to-back Constructors' World Championships, it's phenomenal.” Webber jumped ahead of Jenson Button at the start and took third place and was initially followed by both Ferraris, but after the first pit stop round got Hamilton on his tail.
Webber commented, “The battle with Lewis was pretty intense. I was frustrated that we followed him out of the pit lane, so I risked quite a bit to try and pass him on the out lap, before he got settled in. It's not easy to pass a driver of Lewis' caliber. I tried some moves and it was a good battle as our cars had weaknesses and strengths in different areas of the lap, so trying to get the move done wasn't particularly easy.” The only thing he regretted was he wasn’t able to take second place from Hamilton, “I enjoyed it, but I would have liked to have got that extra position, which I think performance-wise we deserved, but McLaren did a good job and Lewis drove well.”
Hamilton indecisive - happy, or not happy?
Hamilton’s ambitions to win the race were short-lived when the lights turned to green on Sunday afternoon, and after a short skirmish with Vettel the Briton lost the lead when the German out braked him just ahead of Turn 4. Vettel’s coupe d’etat was in fact the decisive move that would ultimately lead him to victory. The number one Red Bull driver then started to pull away from the rest of the field, initially Hamilton was able to follow him but on the long run couldn’t match the pace of the Red Bull.
McLaren had a well-executed pit stop strategy, which meant Hamilton was able to keep Webber behind him, but towards the end of the race Webber was able to put some pressure on him. “There was so much pressure from Mark behind and it would have been so easy to make a mistake, lock up or go wide - but I'm really satisfied that I didn't do so once. I believe that withstanding pressure is the mark of a World Champion, and I think I showed that in today's race,” the Briton said.
But he admitted it had been impossible to catch up with Vettel, “They were massively quick throughout the weekend, particularly in the race, and it was impossible to be able to really catch Sebastian and overtake,” adding, ”This was a good, strong result for the team. The guys didn't put a foot wrong all weekend, so we should be proud of today's result - but, man, it was hard! I really hope we can carry our continued momentum through the next three races. It feels good to be back!”
And indeed, Hamilton was back after a spell of accidents and incidents when he on Saturday took pole for McLaren, but during the press conference didn’t look too happy at all which even led to the interviewer to inquire whether everything was okay. “I would have thought that you'd have had a smile as wide as the sea between here and Japan. But you don't seem to be too happy? Is everything okay?”
And Hamilton answered, “No, I am happy. I am very happy. Happy to be here and very proud of what the team have been available to achieve over the course of the last few races and for Jenson to have won the last race and for us to be on the front two rows again and the only ones competing with Red Bull, I am very, very happy about it.” But the damage was done and his mood swings have led to many speculations and McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh came to the rescue and denied the 2008 champion was suffering from a depression, and remarked ‘it is not obligatory to whoop’ when a driver takes pole.
Hamilton did have many problems this season, on track especially with Felipe Massa. Off track he seems to struggle with his team mate Jenson Button, who has performed much better now the season runs to an end, and also has sealed a multi-year deal with McLaren and has now taken a more prominent place in the team. Others believe he has personal problems with his ex-manager his father Anthony, his girlfriend Nicole Scherzinger and the Italian Corriere dello Sport even reported this was the result of Hamilton joining ‘the controversial celebrity religion Scientology’. And the man in question reacted after the race, “So if you expect me to be all happy-doolally after a race like that [referring to only have clinched second place], you're not going to hear it.”
For Button, who won the Japanese Grand Prix one week earlier, things didn’t pan out as planned either as he had a terrible start and immediately lost three places and dropped to sixth with both Ferraris then ahead of him. “On the first lap, I braked into Turn Three, but Felipe went inside me and I got stuck on the outside and ended up losing quite a few places. At the end of the first lap, I was sixth, but I don't think that poor first lap would have changed my result,” Button explained.
After his first pit stop he was back in fourth position after he had battled it out with Nico Rosberg who also exited the pit lane side-by-side with Button, a battle initially won by the German. “I was able to nip back past pretty quickly and was able to close down on the battle for second between Lewis and Mark,” he commented. For the remainder of the race he was suffering from under steer, “Throughout the race, I didn't have any front-end grip. "I don't think I could have done much more than fourth today. I struggled to get rid of my under steer throughout the whole race, so fourth was a fair reflection of what the car was capable of today.”
Ferrari: The best we could do
Ferrari earlier this season admitted the title fight was over for the Maranello-based team, and in Korea Alonso again tested parts for the 2012 car. Massa and Alonso qualified in fifth and sixth place, Massa again outpaced his Spanish team mate. During the start both Ferraris jumped ahead of Button’s McLaren, but only because the Briton made a poor start. However, after the first round of stops Button had regained his fourth position again and Massa and Alonso were also surprised by Nico Rosberg who also had jumped ahead of them.
From there on it became a difficult race, Massa and Alonso spent the entire second stint behind the Mercedes, and only during the next stops got rid of the German, and Alonso then was also able to get ahead of Massa. Again Alonso stated he had problems with his tyres, “All in all, it was an interesting race, with plenty of action. At the start, I was struggling a bit to match the pace of the leaders, because, after just a few laps, the supersofts were already producing a lot of under steer,” Alonso explained. He was then between Michael Schumacher and Vitaly Petrov and when the pair collided Petrov almost took the Ferrari out as well.
During his final stint Alonso had come closer and closer to Button in fourth place, but by that time it was already too late, and Alonso was heard saying over the team’s radio “I give up, I give up.” Asked by the BBC why he had given up Alonso replied, “I did 20 qualifying laps to catch the group in front. When I arrived there I had a little moment close to the wall in the last corner, so I asked the team how many laps left. They said two, and I said 'with two, I cannot do it guys’.”
Although Ferrari still maintain they are totally committed to the remaining races and still aim for a victory, the Spaniard admitted it would be very difficult as McLaren and Red Bull are much faster. “I think everything will remain more or less the same unfortunately. They are a little bit ahead of us, no doubt, especially on Saturday they seem very strong; we are eight tenths or nine tenths behind them.”
Massa was also not happy with his race and had hoped for a podium place. “I'm not pleased because small problems prevented me from getting a better result,” said Massa. And he added, “After the second stop, I found myself behind a Toro Rosso and a Force India who were fighting amongst themselves and I lost valuable time which allowed Fernando to get ahead of me.” Alonso finished in fifth, and Massa in sixth place.
Ferrari’s technical director Pat Fry described Ferrari’s current situation, “This Sunday is a mirror image of Saturday, with an identical result. We certainly can't be surprised by it: we are well aware that if we qualify on the third row, it becomes difficult to fight for the very top places, unless something happens to those who start ahead of you and everything goes perfectly.”
Schumacher and Petrov revisited
Once more seven times World Champion Schumacher and Russian Lotus Renault driver Petrov bumped into each other, although the word ‘bumped’ was this weekend perhaps an understatement to describe the crash Petrov caused. Schumacher had this year already ran into the back of the Lotus Renault twice as a result of a clumsy maneuver, but it was now Petrov’s turn to cause the elimination of the German. On the run to Turn Three Petrov was fighting to keep Alonso behind him, but out braked himself and T-boned the Mercedes of Schumacher who was ahead of him.
Both drivers retired, Petrov was able to make it back to the pit but his left hand steering rod had broken and the damage couldn’t be repaired. Schumacher never saw the Russian coming, “I was just suddenly spun into a direction I had not intended to go, and then I saw my rear wing hanging off. It was unfortunate but these things happen when you fight hard - that's racing.” Bad luck again for Schumacher, who had a good pace and would certainly have scored points, “It's a big pity as the car was again very good in race trim and I had already gained some positions. It would have been interesting to see what was possible, and I think we could certainly have taken some points.”
Petrov gave his account of the events, “I tried to defend my position from Fernando but I was in the braking zone on the dirty side of the track which meant I locked my wheels and hit Michael.” And further commented, “I was focused on my battle with Fernando as there was potential for me to be ahead of him. We both braked too late as he missed the corner too. I apologise to Michael, it was not his fault, it was absolutely my fault - once my wheels were locked there was nothing I could do about it. But that's racing and tomorrow is another day.”
Petrov had to pay a visit to the FIA Stewards to explain what happened but couldn’t convince the four-men Stewards panel and was given a reprimand and also received a five-place grid penalty for the Indian Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.
Rosberg had a better race, but finished in eighth place after Jaime Alguersuari took his seventh place during the very last lap. Earlier on he had a few battles with Alonso and Massa, and later on with Button. “I had good speed at the start of the race today but after we changed to the prime tyres, it became more difficult as the degradation was too strong. I had some nice battles against Jenson and the Ferraris, and was pushing hard to defend my position against Felipe and Fernando in the middle stint,” he stated after the race. And added, “I flat-spotted my front tyres so I had to pit earlier than expected which made my last stint on the primes very long. I didn't have enough grip by the end and so I just wasn't able to defend the position against Jaime. A difficult race for me today but I'm still happy to score some points.”
Excellent performance by Toro Rosso
After Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes, Toro Rosso was the fourth team to end in the top ten in Korea. Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi had qualified in 11th and 13th place respectively, and thanks to their great two-stop tyre strategy made steady progress during the race, and their efforts were rewarded as Alguersuari finished in seventh, and Buemi in ninth place. A solid performance, it seems Toro Rosso has overcome the problems they had with the new Pirellis since the start of the 2011 season.
Alguersuari initially lost a place to Schumacher who overtook the Spaniard and Adrian Sutil as well, but he regained his 11th place after he got past the Force India and then was on Schumacher’s tail. He waited long to make his first stop and he got lucky when the safety car came out. By lap 15 he was in third place and he took advantage of the safety car, quickly pitted and rejoined the race in eighth place behind Massa and Alonso. He had a perfect strategy and on lap 35 was again in third position, pitted and rejoined the race again in eight place, this time behind Rosberg.
“I was not concerned about tyre degradation and believed our two stop strategy was the right one and it worked perfectly for us,” he said. Alguersuari then overtook Rosberg in the last lap, “The car had fantastic straight line speed which is how I managed to pass Nico on the final lap. I struggled a bit in sector two compared to him which is why I saved all the KERS for after the first corner, in order to be close enough to activate the DRS. I ended up using all the KERS and DRS and it finally paid off right at the end.”
And added, “Combined with great pit stops, that is how we managed to produce this fantastic result. I am very happy for the team who have worked so hard, especially the mechanics fitting all these new parts. We are closer to Sauber now and with three races remaining, I think we have a chance of passing them [for the Constructors’ Championship], as long as we continue to perform like this, finishing in the top ten!”
His Swiss team mate Buemi had a bad start and tumbled from 13th to 17th position. “Someone drove into me at the first corner which cost me four places and I'm not really sure what happened,” said Buemi. But when it was time for his first stop he was already in 12th position. “I had to work hard to pass other cars - the two Williams, the two Saubers and both Force Indias - to move up the order.”
He was also on a two-stop strategy that worked beautifully, but after his last stop he got stuck behind Paul di Resta’s Force India. With just six laps to go he finally made it past the Scot and finished in ninth position.
Team Principal Franz Tost praised his team for the progress they recently made, “Seventh and ninth place is by far our best result of the season, with Jaime matching his finishing position in Monza. It is down to the hard work of the entire team at the track and those back in the factory and at our wind tunnel, because without their efforts which delivered our most recent updates, our performance would not have improved to this extent. It was also the fruit of strong performances from both our drivers.”
The last battle, second and third place in both championships
As Red Bull has claimed both the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship, the last three races will now decide who will become second and third in both championships. For second place in the Drivers’ Championship Button still has the best cards, and with his recent performance it looks like the 2009 Champion is first in line to grab second place. He is 10 points ahead of Alonso who certainly hasn’t given up on taking second place from the Briton. But Alonso is in his turn followed by Webber who is just three point behind him, while Hamilton due to his recent incidents and accidents is in fifth place, 13 points behind the Australian - and 26 points behind Button. With still 75 points to earn during the last three races anything is possible.
In the Constructors’ Championship McLaren is still in second place with Ferrari in third place 108 points behind the Woking-based team. In total there are still 129 points to be scored during the last three races, which means Ferrari must at least take first and second place in India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil to beat McLaren. Mercedes is in fourth place, but even their place isn’t save as Lotus Renault is just 55 points behind the Silver Arrows team.
The battle for fifth place therefore is between Lotus Renault (72 points) who are currently in fifth place, Force India (49) in sixth, Sauber (40) in seventh and Toro Rosso (37) is eighth. Toro Rosso is hoping to take at least seventh place from Sauber and possibly could threaten Force India’s sixth place, catching Lotus Renault’s fifth place is theoretically possible, but Toro Rosso would have to score second and third places to achieve this.
Sauber recently lost fifth place to Force India and the Swiss team wants fifth place back, and as there are only nine points between the two, which could turn into an interesting battle. The Indian team are just 23 points behind Lotus Renault, and it would of course be team owner Vijay Mallya’s dream to beat the Renault supported team.
Last team to have scored points this season is Williams, a nightmare season for Sir Frank Williams as Rubens Barrichello and Pastor Maldonado together have only scored 5 points, their worst result ever. Further down Team Lotus is still the fastest of the newer teams, while HRT have again like in 2010 beaten the Marussia Virgin team who have been plagued by reliability problems and a chronic lack of downforce. All three new teams have so far after almost two years failed to score one single point, Jarno Trulli has scored two 13th places and Heikki Kovalainen didn’t get further then 14th place, but maybe, just maybe, if they are lucky, could score that so desired first championship point, for Team Lotus scoring just one point would be almost like winning the championship.
Next stop: Buddh International Circuit, India
In two weeks it is time for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix hosted by the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India. There have been many speculations whether the new track designed by Formula One circuit guru Hermann Tilke will be ready before October 30, so far FIA Delegate and Race Director Charlie Whiting has been positive about the progress that has been made after visiting the track early October, while FOM CEO Bernie Ecclestone also threw in his height by denying the work on the circuit was not on schedule.
Two local heroes will be participating in the Indian venue, Karun Chandhok will take over Jarno Trulli’s seat at Team Lotus, and Narain Karthikeyan will take over Daniel Ricciardo’s HRT. Karthikeyan is the only Indian driver to ever have scored world championship points, he picked up five points during the 2005 United States Grand Prix for Jordan after accidents had occurred due to Michelin tyre failures. All Michelin teams decided to withdraw from the race, and Karthikeyan finished fourth, one lap behind winner Schumacher.
As said, there is still plenty to fight for, and the Indian Grand Prix promoters have already revealed that their Buddh circuit will be the ‘fastest circuit on the planet’, with long straights and many high-speed corners, a challenge for all teams and also for the Pirelli tyres.